Kiwis bombarded by alcohol messages

JOHN HARTEVELT AND DANYA LEVY
Last updated 08:22 13/07/2012
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Labour is calling for changes to stop the normalisation of alcohol by sporting and cultural heroes amid an 'explosion' of foetal alcohol syndrome.

It says New Zealanders are being bombarded with messages that alcohol is a normal part of life and is urging MPs to support proposed new restrictions on advertising.

The Alcohol Reform Bill is making its way through Parliament and is expected to tighten the sale of "ready-to-drink" products but has been criticised by the health lobby for not going far enough to help curb New Zealand's binge drinking culture.

Labour's associate health spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway says "omnipresent and overt" alcohol advertising and sponsorship needed to be reined in, if New Zealand was serious about changing its drinking culture.

"Alcohol is all-pervasive in our communities. Kiwi kids grow up surrounded by alcohol advertising. They are bombarded with messages and images that imply alcohol is a normal part of life and that it should be purchased in large quantities."

Children looked up to sporting and cultural heroes that were regularly associated with alcohol, he said.

Lees-Galloway had drafted a series of amendments to the Bill that he would put up when it came back to the debating chamber for a clause by clause debate, which was expected this month.

They included restricting alcohol advertising around schools, early childhood centres and at all but R18 films, and prohibiting advertising discounts.

Labour acknowledged many organisations relied on alcohol sponsorship, just as many once relied on tobacco sponsorship, he said.

"That is why I want to take this moderate approach to consider the viability of this option and to plan a smooth implementation should it go ahead."

Lees-Galloway also wanted alcohol sponsorship phased out the same way tobacco sponsorship was phased out.

FOETAL ALCOHOL 'EXPLOSION'

It follows Children's Commissioner Russell Wills yesterday telling a Parliamentary inquiry into child abuse that alcohol caused enormous harm to children and should be treated with the same seriousness cigarettes were.

Young people were actively discouraged from smoking but not from drinking, he told the health select committee.

There had been a "terrifying explosion" in the number of children with signs of foetal alcohol syndrome, he said.

"The effect of foetal alcohol syndrome honestly terrifies me," Dr Wills said.

"My outpatient work is largely with children with severe behaviour disorders, and like all of my colleagues, my experience is the number of children that I'm seeing with foetal alcohol effects has just exploded in the last five years, and all of us are seeing this."

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The trend was frightening because even though early intervention could mitigate the effects of the syndrome, there was a "very substantial number of these kids" coming through the education system who would need a lot of help.

Wills urged MPs to look again at minimum pricing for alcohol.

Justice Ministry officials last week met alcohol industry leaders over a possible pricing regime and Labour planned to put forward an amendment to establish one.

But Prime Minister John Key has criticised the idea and the proposal by Labour MP Charles Chauvel does not appear to have enough support.

The Bill included a conscience vote for all MPs on the purchase age of alcohol and Labour had given its MPs a free vote on the entire legislation.

Lees-Galloway said he hoped National would either support his amendments or allow its MPs a conscience vote on the proposed changes to advertising.

THE PROPOSED CHANGES:

- Remove alcohol advertising on posters or billboards within 300m of schools and early childhood centres.

- Remove alcohol advertising in cinemas unless the film screening is R18.

- Prohibit television advertising of alcohol before 9pm.

- Prohibit using price in alcohol advertisements except in catalogues.

- Prohibit advertising discounts on alcohol, including in catalogues.

- Establish a "Alcohol Advertising Reform Committee" with the health and justice ministries which would include the Health Promotion Agency.

- The Dominion Post

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